Carey Mulligan plays the wilful, independent Bathsheba Everdene, who leaves behind her humble existence to run her late uncle’s farm, left to her in his will. It’s there she is reconnected with the diligent and reticent sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), who had one proposed for her hand in marriage. She had declined though, and Gabriel has a fight on his hands to win over her love, as he’s in competition with the affluent, if somewhat introverted bachelor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and the impetuous soldier, Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge), as she must decide who will be the perfect counterpart to spend the rest of her life with.
There’s a pertinent, feminist angle to this piece too, with a headstrong female protagonist – self-determining, individualistic and in charge of her own affairs, during an era when women were merely expected to be the wife of a male with those very traits. It makes for a film that should play extremely well to a contemporary crowd, tapping in to a current rise in issues surrounding equality. Initially, you do wonder if it’s worth bringing this tale back to the big screen, following on from the 1967 endeavour starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp – but with Thomas Vinterberg at the helm, the man who co-founded the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95, with Lars von Trier, you’re safe in the knowledge that this has been left in the hands of such an ingenious, enterprising director.
That being said, Vinterberg does abide to the tropes of the traditional period drama, with the typically atmospheric music and the mise-en-scéne – but it’s done so in an affectionate manner. Meanwhile, Mulligan shines in the leading role, turning in such a beguiling performance. It’s essential this be the case too, as we need to believe in this array of men falling at her feet, and we wholeheartedly abide. As for Schoenaerts, well, his accent may be a little dodgy, but he’s on the verge of developing a Ryan Gosling-esque man crush after this showing – and Vinterberg evidently knows this is the case, dousing his male lead in mud and sweat. He’s in need of a cold flannel – and to be honest, so are we.
This glorious adaptation of Hardy’s acclaimed piece of literature, is a compelling, poignant and truly absorbing feature film. Plus, it’s nice to see a film set on a farm, which isn’t the most prevalent cinematic stomping ground. It’s also the only setting which can inspire chat-up lines such as “I’ve got interesting pigs”. Almost bloody works too.